Bucks County Herald

Lambertville restaurateur Jim Hamilton dies

Man of many talents, he traveled and returned

SUSAN S. YESKE



Jim Hamilton presides over a press event announcing a new menu at Hamilton’s Grill Room in 2014. At right is Mark Feffer.

Designer, restaurateur, artist and community activist Jim Hamilton traveled the world, learning to cook in France and Italy and skiing on some of the world’s finest slopes. He worked as a set designer on Broadway and became friends with some of the theater’s most well-known stars.

But he always came back home to Lambertville, N.J., where he lived until his death last week at the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, N.J.

Born the son of the town doctor, Mr. Hamilton was expected to follow his father’s career path but instead chose to study at the Rhode Island School of Design. That led to a first career as an award-winning set designer.

From 1949 to 1955 he was a set designer for the former Lambertville Music Circus, where he met his first wife, Madeleine A. Artieres Hamilton, a dancer at the Metropolitan Opera. He designed sets for the plays performed at the Music Circus including the world premiere production of “To Hell with Orpheus.”

Later he would open his own company, Design Associates Inc., which built sets for a variety of theatrical productions including the Barnum & Bailey Circus. That work was done in a shop he set up in a converted skating rink in Lambertville. In recent years he operated Jim Hamilton & Co., designing sets and restaurant kitchens.

When his first marriage ended, Mr. Hamilton decided it was time for him to learn to cook, so he attended culinary school in France and Italy. In addition to preparing his own meals, he used the opportunity to learn how to design restaurant kitchens that would best serve the needs of the chefs.

In the 1980s Mr. Hamilton opened Hamilton’s Grill Room in Lambertville with his daughter Melissa, a chef who was director of the test kitchen at Saveur magazine and currently co-owns Canal House Cooking in Lambertville.

The restaurant, which employed a farm-to-table concept long before it became trendy, continues to thrive 30 years later, in large part because of Mr. Hamilton, said executive chef Mark Miller.

“He was incredible,” said Miller. “I learned so much from him.”

Hamilton’s Grill Room provided an opportunity for Mr. Hamilton to showcase the food knowledge he had gained in France, as well as his artistic talents in its décor and his kitchen design skills.

Always a hands-on restauranteur, until his most recent illness Mr. Hamilton continued to visit local farms to buy produce for the restaurant. For many years he also could be seen demonstrating his recipe for shad roe outside the restaurant during the annual Lambertville Shad Festival.

Mr. Hamilton’s culinary education continued throughout the rest of his life; he attended classes in New York City and also taught them locally.

He will be missed by fellow local chefs who mourned his passing. “It’s the end of an era,” said Miller.

Caleb Lentchner, chef/owner of Caleb’s American Kitchen in Lahaska, called Mr. Hamilton “the godfather of Lambertville-New Hope restaurateurs,” saying he set a higher standard for the area that other restaurants would follow.

Mr. Hamilton was known in the Lambertville-New Hope area for his philanthropic work, and he regularly provided food for charitable events, often working the stand himself. Among his most recent appearances was the Culinary Classic in Newtown, last October.

A favorite charity was the Friends of Ely Park, which was renovating the park in Lambertville. Memorial donations can be made at friendsofelypark.org.

Mr. Hamilton declined to reveal his age after he turned 75, preferring for people to guess.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Hamilton is survived by his wife, Judy, daughter Gabrielle and son Simon. He was predeceased by sons Todd and Jeffrey.

A private service is planned by the family.

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